If you happen to have an extra 1.85 million pounds lying around, you could become the next proud owner of Enid Blyton’s charming “cottage” (in quotes because, really, it’s a sizable home with four bedrooms, two bathrooms, and three reception rooms).
I’d convert 1.85 million pounds into American dollars for my fellow countrymen and women — according to the stats, most of my readers are American — but, well, would any of them care? My bet is that many of them don’t know who Enid Blyton was.
Britain’s Blyton died almost half a century ago, but she remains one of the the most beloved children’s book authors in the world — except in the United States.*
I didn’t know who she was until the late 1980s when my Australian cousins sent a box of her books over to us. None of these books were available at my local bookstore. They’re more widely available now, thanks to online retailers, but Blyton’s books still haven’t reached the popularity they have in other places.
I’ve often wondered why that’s the case. Is it that the American market was already saturated with our Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys (then) and our Fancy Nancys and the like (now)? Is it lingering unease about the UK (some 200 years after Independence)? Or is it a case of American self-absorption (do we only want to read about ourselves?).
Interestingly, one of the most popular posts on my blog is actually one about Blyton. Its readers aren’t the usual folks. They’re people from all over the world who google some permutation of “Enid Blyton racism sexism” and land on Enid Blyton, Are We Mistaken?
In that post, I discussed the controversy around some of the content in Blyton’s books that modern readers have deemed racist and sexist. At the time, back when some people in Blyton’s hometown opposed the town’s decision to hold a festival in her honor, I wondered “whether an author’s antiquated, abhorrent views should outweigh the historical importance, literary merit, and entertainment value of [his/her] books.”
Is it fair to judge an author from the past by modern standards? Generally speaking, I would say no, though I might support a publishing company’s decision to cleanse the controversial content to some limited extent (a degree of censorship — a tactic I am usually against — that I discuss in More Thoughts on the Censorship Spectrum: Cleansing Racist Themes from Children’s Books).
As for Blyton, there are some who just can’t look beyond the racial epithets and sexist attitudes in her books. Meanwhile, there are others who either don’t mind the content or see it as uncomfortable but forgivable remnants from the past.
Blyton’s books may be somewhat less popular than they were in the last century, but there remains a great deal of interest in her work and also in her former home — except in the United States, where few probably care that 1.85 million pounds is about 2.8 million dollars.
*There must be other countries where she isn’t well known (perhaps countries that were never part of the British empire). However, her books have been translated into more than 80 languages.